Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Year of Release:  1946
Director:  Charles Vidor
Screenplay:  Jo Eisinger, Marion Parsonnet and Ben Hecht
Starring:  Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia
Running Time:  110 minutes
Genre:  film noir, crime, drama, romance,

In Buenos Aires, small time American gambler Johnny Farrell (Ford) manages to get a job with sinister casino owner Ballin Mundson (Macready).  As time passes, Farrell and Mundson form a friendship, however when Mundson introduces Farrell to his glamorous new wife Gilda (Hayworth), it soon becomes apparent that Farrell and Gilda have a past.

This has become one of the classic Hollywood films, with Rita Hayworth being the quintessential femme fatale.  Photographed in glittering silver, her introduction has become iconic, as is her striptease (at least, she takes off her gloves) to the song "Put the Blame on Mame".  However, Hayworth gives Gilda a vulnerability as well as sex appeal.  Glenn Ford is also striking as the thuggish Farrell.  The crime story at the center of the film is always second place to the love triangle, although seen through today's eyes, it's strongly hinted that the love triangle isn't quite what it appears.    

Rita Hayworth in Gilda

Sunday, 14 May 2017

"The Pigeon Tunnel" by John le Carre

Year of Publication:  2016
Number of Pages:  342 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction, autobiography

In a career that has lasted 55 years, ex-spy turned novelist David Cornwell (who writes under the pseudonym John le Carre) has become one of the greatest living authors.   Initially writing intelligent Cold War thrillers such as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), le Carre has come to use the structure of the espionage thriller to explore human psychology and explore the political and moral climate of modern geopolitics.  This book is not really an autobiography, but it is likely as close to one as we are ever likely to get.  It collects reminiscences and anecdotes of events and people in le Carre's life, that have helped shape his remarkable career.  We are presented with a cast of actors, spies, directors, politicians, journalists, crooks, prisoners and fellow authors.  Beautifully written, and full of interesting stories, by turns funny and dark, and sometime both, particularly in one of the book's best stories where le Carre writes about his complex relationship with his con-man father.  This is a book to treasure.

"I'm a liar... Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practiced in it as a novelist.  As an maker of fictions, I invent versions of myself, never the real thing, if it exists."
- John le Carre, The Pigeon Tunnel    

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Year of Release:  2017  
Director:  James Gunn
Screenplay:  James Gunn, based on the comic Guardians of the Galaxy created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Starring:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klemetieff, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone
Running Time:  136 minutes
Genre:  Science-fiction, action, comedy

The Guardians of the Galaxy are: Peter Quill a.k.a "Starlord" (Pratt) from Earth; ex-assassin Gamora (Saldana); warrior Drax (Bautista); wise-cracking thief Rocket (Cooper)  a genetically modified raccoon; and Groot (Diesel), a plant-like humanoid who is still a sapling, after the events of the first film.  After being hired by the arrogant and easily insulted Sovereign race to defeat a huge inter-dimensional monster, the Guardians find themselves being hunted by them due to Rocket stealing some valuable batteries and insulting their leader, Ayesha (Debicki).  Ayesha hires intergalactic pirate Yondu (Rooker) to hunt them down.  Meanwhile, Quill discovers the truth behind his mysterious origins.

When it was originally released in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be a huge surprise.  It was a risky film, even from the mighty Marvel Studios because it was so far removed from the rest of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  Instead of being a real superhero film, this was an out and out space opera, featuring a talking raccoon, and a walking tree, and the general feeling before release was that it might be too bizarre for general audiences.  However, people loved it.  It was exciting, playful and funny. Director James Gunn does not tamper too much with a winning system in this sequel.  There is all the humour, action, spectacle and '80s tunes that fans could want.  Familiarity may mean that this is not as fresh and surprising as the original, but with the character being more familiar there is more depth to their relationships.  If the first film was about getting the band together, here we see them grow and strengthen.  The performances are good, and there are several welcome additions to the team.  This is a hugely enjoyable film, the pace hardly ever flags despite running well over two hours and it provides solid entertainment.

The Guardians of the Galaxy left to right: Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Pom Klemnetieff, Dave Bautista

Thursday, 11 May 2017

"The Blade Artist" by Irvine Welsh

Year of Publication:  2016
Number of Pages:  273 pages
Genre:  Crime

The brutal, violent, alcoholic thug Frank Begbie has terrorized the streets of his native Edinburgh for decades.  However now it appears as if the unthinkable has happened:  Frank Begbie has straightened out and cleaned up.  Having seemingly renounced his violent past, Begbie is now a successful artist, living in California under the name of Jim Francis, with a beautiful wife and two young daughters.  Until he learns that his estranged son, Sean, who Begbie barely knew, has been savagely murdered.  Returning to Scotland for the funeral, Begbie sets out to find his son's killer.  As he finds himself among his old Edinburgh, surrounded by old friends and enemies, Begbie finds his past violently catching up with him.      

First appearing in Irvine Welsh's 1993 debut novel Trainspotting, and memorably played by Robert Carlyle in the 1996 film adaptation and it's sequel T2: Trainspotting, Frank Begbie is one of Welsh's most popular characters, appearing in several other books.  However, this is the first time that he has been the lead character in a novel, and there is the problem of having a hugely popular supporting character becoming the lead, and it does dilute the character's impact.  It's entertaining enough, but there are no real surprises, the central murder mystery is not particularly engaging.  It's funny though and moves along at a good pace.    

Sunday, 7 May 2017

"The Star Diaries" by Stanislaw Lem

Year of Publication:  1971
Number of Pages:  338
Genre:  Science-fiction, satire

This is a collection of linked short stories detailing the adventures of accident-prone astronaut Ijon Tichy as he explores time and space, dealing with time paradoxes, clones, aliens, hostile robots, malfunctioning matter-transmitters, attempts to "fix" human history, and killer potatoes.

Polish author Stanislaw Lem is possibly best known for his 1962 novel Solaris which was filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972, and by Steven Soderbergh in 2002.  Lem wrote the Ijon Tichy short stories over a period of twenty years, and only some of them are published in The Star Diaries.  Reading them you can see how Lem moved from playful, humorous science-fiction, to deeper, philosophical fiction.  The stories are inventive, absurd, philosophical, heavily satirical and sometimes very funny.  It deals with some serious themes such as the nature of existence.  Some people may be put off by the long philosophical and theological discussions in the book, but there is enough hilarious invention to make it worth while.